A handwringing kook and a crashing bore are in love, wooing each other from neighbouring New York apartments. She's a neurotic dancer beset with stomach ulcers. He's an equally neurotic, hectoring lawyer beset with a messy divorce. William Gibson's 1958 play (made famous by the 1962 movie version) brings this textbook odd couple together in a occasionally witty, but more often sour and ponderous love story. And I'm not sure it's a romance that's worth reviving.
Maybe Jerry set a few midcentury hearts a-flutter with his particular brand of brash, lecturing, depressive machismo, but in 2018 he doesn't exactly make an appealing romantic lead. He crashes his way into Gittel's life, manipulating her into sleeping with him by hinting at his suicidal tendencies, then lecturing her for not having the self-respect to turn him down. Charles Dorfman's smoulder-free turn in the role is all blank-faced stolidity: his concession to moments of extreme emotional intensity is to flick his eyes from left to right, like a pendulum in a grandfather clock. Elsie Bennet's performance as plucky Bronx dancer Gittel is more endearing, but she's so relentlessly fragile that she's got no hope of keeping up her end of the seesaw: one harsh word from Jerry and she crumples into a ball of immaculately-dressed nerves.
Director Gary Condes's production treats the show as a straight-up period piece. Max Dorey's carefully drawn set design puts the two lovers in side-by-side apartments, his spartan, hers peach and pristine. The pictures on Gittel's bedroom walls hint at her floundering career as a dancer, while the total emptiness of Jerry's flat reveals a man who's using her lithe charisma to fill the void his wife left behind.
Despite some amusing bits of Doris Day, screwball-style humour, 'Two for the Seesaw' is fundamentally a deeply depressing play. Gittel is totally crushed by a man who lectures her, psychoanalyses her, then ultimately leaves her: the final scene where she actually thanks him for coming into her life had me gulping in horror, ready to stage an intervention. Gibson's play doesn't have the self-awareness to show his toxic his male protagonist really is. And Condes's production makes little attempt to explore this messed-up story's darkness - heck, it barely makes sense of the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of a script that leaps forward by days or years between each scene. This play's odd verbal flashes of kooky brilliance just look tragic and out of place, like fake flowers trying to their best to brighten a run-down, dingy apartment.